Confessions of a DJ, or In Defense of the Wedding Dancefloor

By the time I inevitably sweep up the confetti mess from the dance floor on December 30th, I’ll have DJed twenty-five weddings in 2016 through my little DJ company – including my own.

I’ve been DJing weddings for four years, and during that time I’ve attended barn weddings, tent weddings, church weddings, house weddings, and weddings in multi-million dollar event venues. I’ve DJed weddings for couples who have been dating for eight years and for couples who had just met within the calendar year.

As a wedding DJ, you become the perennial wallflower – reading the crowd, observing the ceremonies, and watching for any irregularities on the dance floor. As you can imagine, I can tell you a lot about weddings and the people who attend them.

I can tell you that a Maid of Honor speech that begins with “I have a couple of funny stories about the bride…” will probably be a couple of stories about the bride too long. And that a Best Man speech that ends with tears streaming down the Best Man’s face will leave nearly everyone in the reception hall misty-eyed.

I know in spite of how much you think you hate that Top 40 song they overplay on the radio, you’ll soon be belting the lyrics out at the top of your lungs when the chorus hits.

And no matter how poorly you think you dance, if you just muster enough courage to get onto the dance floor for a few minutes you’ll quickly find that no one else really knows what they’re doing either (and that’s okay).

Nine times out of ten, the bride’s garter is picked up by the ring bearer because – let’s be honest – all the adults in the room are still a little confused why the garter toss is even a thing anymore.

There’s other little details you pick up on – trade secrets, if you will.

Like how in order to maintain the dance floor’s momentum, you need to change up genres every 2 – 3 songs (as long as the transition isn’t too jarring). And the best way to resuscitate a waning dance floor is to play one of Taylor Swift’s 45 hit singles or The Isley Brothers’ “Shout” (thanks Wedding Crashers).

Kelly & Trey – 12/20/14

And, without fail, the liveliness of a dance floor celebration isn’t dependent on a good playlist or whether or not alcohol is served during the reception – nope, it all hinges on the wedding party (the bridesmaids and the groomsmen)’s willingness to get down when that dance floor opens up.

Behind the Booth

DJing a wedding is often viewed as the one of the lowest-common denominators in musical entertainment. And weddings are often derided for being a bore – full of pompous ceremony, boring speeches, and lame music.

“Weddings are cliche, predictable, and old-fashioned,” goes the mantra.

“There’s no artistry in a wedding reception.”

“It’s a job an iPod could do.”

 I – humbly – choose to disagree.

Like I said before, I’ve been to several dozen weddings over the past couple of years, so if anyone has a reason to be jaded by the wedding industry, it’s me.

But here’s the truth: every wedding I’ve DJed – no matter the budget, venue, or the weather – has been a unique and vibrant experience that has eclipsed the unfair assumption that all weddings are predictable, stuffy affairs.

It’s the small details that set the weddings apart. Like the custom-made coloring books about the bride and groom for the kids’ table. Or the doughnut bar instead of a wedding cake. And the hushed whispers shared between the wedding couple during a final, private dance (note: you really should do a private dance at your wedding).

Brittany & Mark – 6/14/15

But some weddings I remember for the wild and unexpected moments. Like an illegal celebratory firework display in the middle of downtown Austin. I’ve DJed two weddings where the original venue flooded and the entire ceremony/reception had to be moved at the last moment to a house (including my own wedding).

Unfortunately, we are a generation most likely to be the victims of the previous generation’s divorces. In a majority of the weddings I work,  at least one member of the wedding couple will be coming from a broken home. And this may be a factor in my generation’s disillusionment toward weddings and marriage.

But in spite of that fact, nearly every other weekend I watch brides and grooms continue to march on – looking back so as to not repeat the mistakes of the past, and looking forward in expectation of a more redemptive future.

Liturgy of Joy

Weddings are marked by a handful of Big Moments.

The first time a groom lays eyes on his bride in her wedding dress. The proclamation of husband and wife. The clumsy or well-rehearsed first dance. The breaking of bread together – be it buffet-style BBQ, a plated dinner, or heavy hors d’oeuvres. And the great escape – when the bride and groom make their way to their getaway car, often blinded by the pelting of bird seed or acrid sparkler smoke.

Liz and Cooper – 8/5/16

In that sense, weddings are a form of liturgy – familiar beats in an old song we just can’t keep from singing. It has rhythm. The tempo might change from couple to couple, but the chords remain the same. And that’s nothing to be jaded or cynical about. 

A wedding is not the culmination of joy in someone’s life, but is instead a joyous moment that deserves to be celebrated in someone’s life.

Within my faith, a wedding is the closest illustration of the love our God has for His children we’ll get to see this side of the veil. It’s an event draped in both symbolic and literal beauty. It’s a celebratory feast – one that basks in the glow of friends and family, both young and old.

Allie & Conner – 9/6/15

The wedding is about the bride and groom, yes, but it’s also about all of us – the family members, friends, roommates, cousins, coworkers, distant relatives, and former classmates.

It’s about putting aside our grudges and fears not only for the sake of the happy couple, but for the sake of each other. For outside the walls of this barn, tent, or reception hall lays a broken world rife with hate, stress, and fear. But in celebration of the young love in our midst, tonight we feast together, we drink together, and we dance together.

With this in mind, I’d like to add one more Big Moment to our list of Big Wedding Moments.

Miriam & Justin – 6/16/16

It’s a moment that hard to nail down, because unlike the First Dance or Cake Cutting, we don’t announce it in order to draw everyone’s attention to it (because we can’t). And it can take many different forms. Guests can participate in this moment and not even realize it.

 But it generally happens toward the latter part of the evening. The dance floor is revving up, that kickdrum beat has hijacked your pulse, and perspiration is beading on your brow. 

Your spouse is dancing next to you and you got a big, goofy grin on your face because you’ve never him move like that or look so happy. Your surrounded by your closest friends and family, and they’re moving too – swaying and laughing to the rapidly oscillating beat.

Bubbles dance in the air above your uplifted hands, and lasers and strobes perforate the fog billowing from the smoke machine. The music swells and reaches its peak, and suddenly there’s a loud pop and multicolor snow – confetti – is pouring from sky above.

Shannon & Joe – 5/28/16

It gets in your hair, your shoulders, and bustled dress, but it doesn’t matter because you’re caught up in the moment – euphoria and jubilee – and everyone whom you love is right there beside you. And the realization dawns that today is your wedding day, and you’re married and this is the start of Something New.

Through handclap beats, foot stomps, sing-along choruses, confetti cannons, bubble machines and wild synth- or banjo-breakdowns, maybe we can achieve the divine – a brief taste of Heaven on earth.

So, at the next wedding you attend, get out there and dance, dance, dance.

Coda: When the Wedding Ends

There’s a powerful scene at the close of the 1967 classic film The Graduate in which the camera tracks the changing expressions of a couple who has just triumphantly fled a wedding. First, their faces are masks of pure joy, but they slowly devolve into a look of detached resignation.

For a lot of couples, this is the reality after the wedding. The party ends, and real life begins in earnest.

During my own engagement, my then-fiancee and I were repeatedly told how “difficult marriage is” and that it would take “a lot of hard work.”And after just four months of marriage, I can attest to the veracity of that advice.

At my own wedding, I delivered the prayer and a brief message before the meal was served. In it, I challenged the guests who were in attendance to check up on us (my bride and I) and to hold us accountable to each other.

Far too often, a bride and groom disappear from their community after they’re married. We all have friends who get married and never seem to see again. And, to be honest (as someone who is recently married) it’s easy to detach from friends and family members in the months following the wedding.

But that’s not how marriage is suppose to work. A wedding was never designed to be the highlight of a marriage, just like a first page shouldn’t be the highlight of a novel.

Therefore, I want to challenge those couples who are engaged and planning a wedding (or if you’re someone who wants to get married): Your wedding will be spectacular, but it’s also the start of something even more fantastic and fun – a marriage.

And it’s difficult for a marriage to thrive in isolation. Therefore, begin developing relationships now with people who will invest in your future marriage and push you into community with other married couples.

Trust me, it’s worth it.

This post is supplemented by photographs of That Moment taken by some amazing artists at weddings I’ve DJed. Photographers include (in order of the picture placement) Stephanie Brazzle Photography, Bradford Martens Photography, Eva Elisabeth Photography, Grant Daniels Photography, Hannah Mayson Photography, and Ashley Monogue Photography.

Musical Note: This post was written and composed while listening to OneRepublic’s Kids, Matthew Mole’s Run, and Bishop Briggs’ Pray. Seriously, these are some jams.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s